All websites managed by public sector bodies must be accessible to everyone, including the elderly and the disabled, said internal market MEPs on Thursday. They amended draft rules to enable over 100 million people who have difficulty accessing public websites to use e-services, for example, to submit a tax declaration, claim unemployment benefit or enroll a child at a kindergarten.
"The Internet has boosted participation for people in a tremendous way. But it is still not perfect. Currently only a third of public websites are accessible for persons with disabilities. While most people take access to information and services for granted, it is extremely important not to exclude members of society –- which do not just include people with disabilities, but also our increasing ageing population. Today´s vote is a single step for the EP, but a big step for persons with disabilities, allowing them greater access to public services" said the rapporteur, Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (ALDE, DE).
There are over 761,000 public sector websites in the EU that offer access to information and services. However, only a third of them meet international web-accessibility standards. This means that a great many online public services are difficult or impossible to access for vulnerable people.
Accessible to all
MEPs are more ambitious. They want to oblige member states to ensure that all public websites are fully accessible, not just the 12 categories proposed by the Commission (which deal, for example, with social security benefits, personal documents or enrolment in higher education).
The Internal Market Committee wants the new rules to extend to the websites of private entities performing public tasks, such as the provision of gas, heat, electricity and water, or transport, childcare or health services. However if member states wish, this obligation will not be applicable to microenterprises (employing up to 10 people).
In addition, MEPs say content on these websites that can be accessed with a mobile device (such as a mobile phone or tablet) must also be covered by the web-accessibility rules.
The committee proposes that a separate authority be set up in each member state tasked with monitoring and rigorously enforcing the rules and setting up a complaint mechanism for problems with web accessibility.
MEPs also say all new content of the websites should comply with the new rules from the beginning of 2015 and all existing content from the beginning of 2017, with two year time more for live audio content.
The legislative resolution was approved by 30 votes to3. The committee will decide at a later date whether to start informal negotiations with the Council on the amended draft directive with a view to reaching agreement at first reading.
In the Chair: Committee Chair Malcolm Harbour, CBE (ECR, UK)